Penned by British vicar Sir Henry Williams Baker (1821-1877), the six stanzas of the hymn The King of Love My Shepherd Is correspond with the six verses of Psalm 23 and allude to Old Testament and New Testament references about the Good Shepherd. The text first appeared in an appendix of the hymnal Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1868. Baker was editor-in-chief of the hymnal and revised so many of the hymns in the publication that the hymnal was later nicknamed Hymns Asked for and Mutilated. But despite his naysayers, Baker got the last laugh – his original text for The King of Love has largely stayed intact through the years without modification or modernization.
Two tunes are typically used for Baker’s text. John B. Dykes’ wrote the tune Dominus Regit Me for The King of Love in 1868. But copyright issues prevented that tune from appearing in The English Hymnal so the traditional Gaelic tune St. Columba was used instead. Today, both tunes are popular for The King of Love but modern hymnals lean toward using Dominus Regit Me. However, the lovely Irish lilt of St. Columba is more popular with arrangers (like me) and that’s the tune you hear in the sound files above.
The King of Love is especially appropriate for one particular Sunday during the six-week Easter season when both the Roman Catholic readings and the Protestant readings feature Good Shepherd/Lamb of God themes. I call that Sunday “Sheep Week” and, with “Sheep Week” in mind, I decided to write a medley based on shepherd-themed hymns. But, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, after I outlined The King of Love section, I realized I had more than enough material to create stand-alone arrangements so the medley never transpired. Sometime soon, though, I may still write that medley to fully celebrate “Sheep Week.” 🙂
And so through all the length of days,
thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing thy praise
within thy house forever.